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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:
The Canons of the Councils of Ancyra, Gangra, Neocæsarea, Antioch and Laodicea, which Canons were Accepted and Received by the Ecumenical Synods.: Excursus on Second Marriages, Called Digamy.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 72 Excursus on Second Marriages, Called Digamy.

To distinguish contemporaneous from successive bigamy I shall use throughout this volume the word “digamy” to denote the latter, and shall thus avoid much confusion which otherwise is unavoidable.

The whole subject of second, and even of third and fourth marriages has a great interest for the student of early ecclesiastical legislation, and I shall therefore treat the matter here (as I shall hope) sufficiently and refer the reader for its fuller treatment to books more especially upon the subject.

The general position of the Church seems to have been to discourage all second marriages, and to point to a single matrimonial connexion as the more excellent way.  But at the same time the principle that the marriage obligation is severed by death was universally recognised, and however much such fresh marriages may have been disapproved of, such disapproval did not rest upon any supposed adulterous character in the new connexion.  I cite a portion of an admirable article upon the subject by an English barrister of Lincoln’s Inn.

(J. M. Ludlow, in Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, sub voce Digamy.)

Although among the earlier Romans 120 there was one form of marriage which was indissoluble, viz., that by confarreatio, still generally a second marriage either after death or divorce was by no means viewed with disfavour.…Meanwhile an intensifying spirit of asceticism was leading many in the Church to a condemnation of second marriage in all cases.  Minucius Felix (Octavius, c. 31, § 5) only professes on behalf of the Christians a preference for monogamy.  Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 150–220) seems to confine the term marriage to the first lawful union (Stromata, Bk. ii.).…It would seem, however, that when these views were carried to the extent of absolute prohibition of second marriages generally by several heretical sects, the Montanists (see Augustine, De Hæresibus, c. xxvi.), the Cathari (ib., c. xxxviii.), and a portion at least of the Novatianists (see Cotel., Patr. Apol., vol. i., p. 91, n. 16) the Church saw the necessity of not fixing such a yoke on the necks of the laity.  The forbiddance of second marriage, or its assimilation to fornication, was treated as one of the marks of heresy (Augustin. u. s.; and see also his De Bono Vid., c. vi.).  The sentiment of Augustine (in the last referred to passage) may be taken to express the Church’s judgment at the close of the fourth century:  “Second marriages are not to be condemned, but had in less honour,” and see also Epiphanius, in his Exposition of the Catholic Faith.

To these remarks of Mr. Ludlow’s, I may add that St. Ambrose had written (De Viduis, c. xi.), “We do not prohibit second marriages, but we do not approve marriages frequently reiterated.”  St. Jerome had spoken still more strongly (Ep. lxvii., Apol. pro libris adv. Jovin.), “I do not condemn digamists, or even trigamists or, if such a thing can be said, octagamists.”  It does not seem that the penance which was imposed in the East upon those entering into second nuptials was imposed in the West.  The Corpus Juris Canonici contains two decretals, one of Alexander III. and another of Urban III., forbidding priests to give the nuptial benediction in cases of reiterated marriage.  In the East at second marriages the p. 73 benediction of the crown is omitted and “propitiatory prayers” are to be said.  Mr. Ludlow points out that in the “Sanctions and Decrees,” falsely attributed to the Council of Nice and found in Mansi (vol. ii., col. 1029) it is expressly stated that widowers and widows may marry, but that “the blessing of the crowns is not to be imparted to them, for this is only once given, at first marriages, and is not to be repeated.…But if one of them be not a widower or widow, let such one alone receive the benediction with the paranymphs, those whom he will.”



The reader may recall the words of Dido:  Ille meos, primusqui me sibi junxit, amores

Abstulit; ille habeat secum servetque sepulcro

Next: Canon XX

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